Nikon has no trouble pulling off small and stylish with its Coolpix point-and-shoot cameras--even with its lower-cost models. The 10-megapixel S230 is a good example, offering up all the point-and-shoot basics, a couple extras like face, smile, and blink detection, and a big, touch-screen display--all for less than $230 in a package that fits easily in a pants pocket. Photo quality is good, but not great, for the money, too, but its performance is slow despite outpacing its forerunner, the S210.
Outside of the 3-inch touch-screen LCD on back, the S230's 3X f3.1-5.9 36-108mm-equivalent lens and 10-megapixel resolution are standard point-and-shoot fare for its price point. The body is tiny at 3.6 inches wide by 2.2 inches high by 0.8 inch deep and weighs only 5 ounces with battery and SD/SDHC card. The model is available in five colors: plum, jet black, warm silver, gloss red, and night blue.
Shooting features are straightforward for the most part. The regular Auto mode gives you the most control, letting you set ISO, autofocus area mode (face priority, auto, or center), white balance, and exposure compensation. You get a handful of drive modes as well, which includes Nikon's Best Shot Selector that snaps off 10 shots while the shutter's pressed and then saves the sharpest and interval timer shooting (takes a picture every 30 seconds, 1, 5, or 10 minutes) in addition to a standard continuous setting. If you like your scene modes, the S230 has 15 of them to pick from or you can let the camera choose what it determines most appropriate by using the Auto Scene Selector mode. The camera's movie mode is limited to 320x240 or 640x480 video clips with sound, but no use of the optical zoom. (Video results were comparatively good.)
Nikon improved upon the touch controls on the Coolpix S60--its first foray into that type of interface--mainly by adding back a couple physical controls. The S230 has a traditional zoom ring around the shutter release as opposed to the S60's onscreen zoom controls. The other change was including an actual Mode menu button; switching shooting modes on the S60's touch interface had an irritating lag time. These two changes along with an overall snappier touch response make the whole shooting experience much more enjoyable. Plus, while the screen size drops from 3.5 inches on the S60 to 3 inches, the S60 only gave you 2.7 inches of that for framing shots. The S230 gives you the full 3 inches.
In playback mode, the S230 keeps the S60's iPhone-esque finger swipes for navigation, but the performance is much smoother now. I was happy to see the ability to write on copies of photos stay, too, which is fun for drawing on your friends (or enemies) and family, but also useful for adding notes to images such as locations or phone numbers.
Photo quality in general is good, and by that I mean it's typical of an ultracompact camera at this price, though not a standout. The S230 has a sensitivity range from ISO 80 to ISO 2,000; however it's best to stay below ISO 200 for the greatest color, sharpness, and detail. At ISO 400 and above there was an increase in softness. Results were also at their finest with Nikon's Motion Detection and Electronic VR image stabilization turned off as these boost ISO along with shutter speed to minimize blur caused by subject movement or camera shake. Again, detail is best at the lower ISOs, but photos up to ISO 800 were still usable for small prints despite their softness.